“So also, my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
Peter had been hearing Jesus talk about forgiveness but like every Christian today, Peter was troubled: “Should I always forgive? If I keep forgiving my neighbour, wouldn’t I be indirectly saying it is okay for him or her to keep doing the same or even worse things? Shouldn’t there be a limit to how much I can forgive?” Peter came up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
Now, it is important to note that Peter’s question was with regard to a brother who admits his faults and comes begging for forgiveness. Luke’s version of this story gives us a clearer context. There, Jesus said: “Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Honestly, forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do even for a devoted Christian. Jesus is teaching us today to always forgive, especially when the offender comes to beg for pardon. By seeking our forgiveness, it means that the person recognizes that what he or she has done is wrong and there is some willingness on their part not to do it again. If eventually, they still do it and come to beg for our forgiveness, it means they still have a conscience. Jesus says: “Don’t count how many times they come, just forgive – so long as they say they are sorry.”
To illustrate his point, Jesus gave the parable of the unforgiving servant. For a person to come to you to beg and you still insist that he or she must be punished, it means you are saying to God that you do not deserve pardon for your sins. If you have pleaded with God for mercy, you should naturally forgive a brother who pleads for mercy. No matter how much pain we feel, we should not forget that we owe God more. The master said to his servant, “I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33)
However, it is a completely different ball game if they fail to admit their fault. If they insist that they are right, if they fail to say they are sorry, it means that if given the chance, they would do it again. In this instance, Jesus did not say we must forgive but He outlined the steps we are to take. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you (i.e. admits his fault), you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
Why did Jesus outline these steps? It is very important that the offender is able to admit his or her faults. If a person does not see anything wrong with what he or she has done, forgiving them only enables them to do more. The Gospel truth is that it is not everyone that deserves forgiveness; some persons are meant to be treated like Gentiles or tax collectors because they know what they are doing is wrong but still do it. For instance, there is no point forgiving the devil.
When Jesus forgave His killers, He begged on their behalf saying: “They do not know what they are doing.” Jesus was sure that if only they knew, they would not have been so cruel to Him. Make efforts to forgive but do not be ashamed if you are not able to forgive but do not die in silence, that is, seek professional help, talk to someone, speak out. Seek healing for your pain and trauma, not revenge. Revenge is not only un-Christian, it does not cure your pain. Even if you were to kill your offender, you would still be traumatized if you do not seek professional help.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, in moments of pain and hurt, let your Holy Spirit descend on me to know how best to act, touch my heart softly, heal my wounds that I may be strong enough to forgive. Amen
Bible Study: Daniel 3:2,11-20, Ps. 25:4-6,7a-9, Matthew 18:21-35).
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu